The Student Playlist

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“Do You Want To Know That It Doesn’t Hurt Me?” – An Introduction to Kate Bush

Influenced: Cocteau Twins, Tears For Fears, Talk Talk, Morrissey, Kirsty MacColl, Björk, Tori Amos, Liz Phair, The Cranberries, Suede, Tricky, Goldfrapp, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Amanda Palmer, Elbow, Joanna Newsom, Bat For Lashes, Laura Marling, Lykke Li, St. Vincent, Marina & The Diamonds, Florence + The Machine, Anna Meredith

Influenced by: The Beatles, King Crimson, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Lindsay Kemp, Elton John, Scott Walker, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith

As the 40th anniversary of her debut album The Kick Inside comes around in February 2018, let us take a moment to reflect on the remarkable career and musical legacy of Kate Bush, and discuss why it is that she is still considered in such high regard to this day. It is hard to fathom that anybody could be simply a passive listener of Kate Bush, so immersive and unique are they as listening experiences. With ten albums behind her, and her 2014 Before The Dawn concert series that sold out in just 15 minutes, it would be wrong to consider her as anything but an icon. Particularly toward the second half of her career, her music is unquestionably avant-garde, and yet there is nobody else quite like her, occupying a category all to herself.

Because of the sensational manner in which she gatecrashed the industry in 1978, hitting number one first time out and becoming the first British female artist to score a chart-topper with a self-penned song, Bush is commonly remembered as an ethereal, waif-like eccentric, but it is important that we do not let that overshadow the reality – that she has a remarkably creative mind, whose restless intelligence is present on every one of her records. Although we also should not disregard the fact that she is an eccentric. Kate Bush pushed boundaries in a way that nobody else really has, before or since. It is her talents as a songwriter that perhaps she is best known for, and this has been recognised in various awards that she has won. Her music has a curious literary element about it (the most obvious example being that aforementioned debut single ‘Wuthering Heights’), however her work also deals with sensitive and taboo subjects. Her lyrics have been known to draw references from the esoteric, combined with influences from both comedy and horror to create the dark humour that reigns in many of her songs.

Kate began writing music as a teenager, and was just 15 when she recorded her first demo tape with David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd), and was signed to EMI Records at 16. A truly innovative artist, her studying of voice, dance and mime have played a huge part in making Kate into the multi-faceted performer she is, setting her worlds apart from the majority of other artists from the turn of the 1980s. Compared to the contemporary chart music of the late Seventies, singles like ‘Wow’ were certainly left-of-field, but not so totally removed from the mainstream as to render them inaccessible.

READ MORE: Kate Bush // ‘Hounds Of Love’ at 30 years old

Bush is a very private person and, despite her success, has spent very little time in the limelight, for the last 25 years leaving gaps of several years between records. However, her innovation truly shows through in her performances, as any glance at the videos for her early singles will reveal. She has movement like nobody else, meaning that her performances are spectacular, displaying the full force of her creativity and theatrics. In terms of live performances, Kate has only done two live tours and a handful of one-offs, so it is in those videos where her performing abilities really shine.

Kate’s eclecticism is continued in her musical style, which takes influence from various sources. Often, these can be heard within the space of a single album, and sometimes just a song. Her influences range from classical music, to prog and glam rock, and stretch further afield, exploring sounds from different musical traditions (or ‘world music’). Kate’s diverse influences are what makes her music so interesting, but it is when it is paired with her voice that it becomes something really special. Kate’s distinctive vocal style adds a whole new dimension to her music. She manages to perfectly encapsulate the emotion and drama of her songs in a way that will that will place you directly in the centre of the story, moving you in a way that no other artist can, through a journey of the melancholy, the strange and the purely theatrical.

READ MORE: Women In Rock no.6 – Siouxsie Sioux

Although her music may initially seem challenging, and some of it is, once you let your guard down and let it fully consume you, it is impossible to not love Kate Bush. She is the absolute model of an unflinching artist, consistently pushing boundaries without the need for reinvention. She takes on personas in her songs, but she is not a character. She is an artist. A storyteller. She embodies the story as if she has lived it herself, a further example of the influence that theatre and the performing arts have had on her work.

Her glam and prog influences have already been mentioned, but it can be argued that Bush also owes a certain debt to punk rock. Arguably, it was the explosion and expressions of individuality that came with the punk movement (along with glam predecessors such as David Bowie and Marc Bolan) that opened the door for an eccentric like Kate to actually find success. However, unlike the punks, she captured the heart of the nation and her first single ‘Wuthering Heights’ reached number one in the charts, and Kate Bush became a household name overnight at the age of just 19.

Kate Bush is a true force of individuality and artistry. Over the course of her forty-year career, she has always done her own thing, and raised the bar for what pop and rock music can be. Her aesthetic and artistic intelligence are what has made Kate the legend that she is considered today. Although she began her career as a teenager, one should not underestimate the level of sophistication that has been present in her music from the very start. The fact that she is such a private person only adds to the mystery that surrounds her. In short, Kate Bush is a true icon, and is well deserving of all of the acclaim that she has received over the years, and more.

If you’re a newcomer to Kate Bush, please check out our ‘Introduction To…’ playlist via Spotify below, and click on page 2 to check out our whistle-stop tour of her 10-album discography!

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